The Vengeance of Rome
The Fourth Volume of the Colonel Pyat Quartet
By Michael Moorcock
PM Press Copyright © 2013 Michael Moorcock
All rights reserved.
My achievements are a matter of history. A record. I am the voice and the conscience of civilised Europe. I am one of the great inventors of my age. I am a child of the century and as old as the century. Unlike Göring and Goebbels and those lickspittles of the SA and SS, I was never afraid to be judged by my actions. No court in the civilised world would countenance such allegations. They are absolutely insubstantial. Yet still that Turk, whose filthy fried-meat shop remains a nightmare for those of us forced to live in its ambience, insists I am a Jew he knew in Pera! I would have been five years old! What could he remember? I suspect a familiar hand in this but am allowed to say nothing. These days, even a casual mention of Comrade Brodmann means Mrs Cornelius will mock me until we have a row. My heart is not strong enough. I console myself. At my age I fear only God's disapproval and there can be precious little of that in store for one who has devoted so much of his life to the service of Christ!
I was always of an evangelical disposition and had meditated a great deal on matters of religion while in service to El Glaoui, so my conversation more readily turned to spiritual matters which was why Mr Mix sometimes likened me to an Old Testament prophet. We had discovered that our cattle truck was not going directly to Casablanca and my normally genial darkie had grown disconsolate. I reassured him that at least our train was bearing us away from the medieval dangers of Marrakech and the sinister whimsicality of her Caïd, and to pass the time I attempted to instil a sense of our Greek faith into my loyal companion. At length the usually easygoing black insisted that Baptist was good enough for him; he always felt uneasy around incense and chanting. 'That voodoo stuff gives me the willies.' Had I seen Ben-Hur? Or was he thinking of Intolerance? Confining my answer to the murmured remark that the early Church was scarcely the same as Babylonian paganism, I was content to avoid controversy while we travelled in intimate discomfort and as a result fell into the pleasant habit we had developed in the USA of discussing favourite films. We were both great 'buffs'.
Oh, the boy. That boy. Her boy. How I loved him. He was going to be my son. I was teaching him everything. At first he listened. Then he became restless. The most important information is that which you don't wish to hear. He lied to me. He lied to me. He was the first one, that erstwhile son of hers! What was I? Some Abraham? Fear thou not Jacob, my servant. Though thou make a nest as high as the eagle and though thou set it among the stars, I will bring thee down from hence. He lied to me. Elijah lied to me. I know. You do not believe it. Nobody can believe it. He lied. He lied. There was no precedent for this. This was the worst of all captivities and it had not been predicted. It taught us that not every lesson is, after all, a big lesson. Big lessons are made up of many small lessons, said the Jew in Arcadia. He wanted me to escape with something. I forget what.
The Jew in Arcadia predicted I would lose what I most valued in the ruins of what I least knew I valued. He called me meshumad. They said he was a tsaddik, eyn maskil. He thought I was slow. He thought he confused me with his riddles. I was not slow and I was not confused by him. I followed his arguments but I could not agree with them, that was all. He was the slow one. I was too quick for his old-fashioned parlour games. Mutti! Mutti! Wer ist das? They believe they are so sophisticated in their provincial professionalism. But it would be rude to challenge them. It would be stupid to make enemies. I can smell the yellow blossoms, the green and yellow stalks in the red mud turned up by the ploughman's skill. The fog rolls across the fields. The smoke drifts through the market. I can smell the market, the plotki, the cooking zrazy, the tubs of lokshen; brass and copper wink among the iron, the enamelled trays, the glittering bowls of dumpling soup. I can smell the golden stones of my old Kiev, the Hero City of the Russ. Oh, Russia, my homeland. Oh, Ukraine, my home. Golden grass blooms in Babi Yar. Golden grass still blooms in my Babi Yar. Mia madre! O, Esmé, how we rose towards the stars that day over the old gorge. And what if only these memories remain? Is there any crime forgetting pain? Is a meek man of any more or less worth than a proud man? We are rarely given the example. Our prophet celebrated the meek. Our society continues to celebrate the violent. I know all this. I followed it through the 1950s. They were saying it on the radio and TV. But gradually we forgot. The meek hero disappeared.
City of sleeping cats. City of goats. City of Greeks. We lived in that world, the Jew and I. We lived in the deep history of it, so deep that no enemy could find us. Our only fear was that a friend should betray us. It was the life of a very fortunate intellectual rat but it was life. That's show business, says Brady, the child-killer. Is there some primitive sense they have that by killing us they empower themselves? They eat our brains. There are more terrible ideas than this, I suppose. But they behave like film stars, these secret service interrogators, these prison guards. I read what I could in the camps. For a while they let me use the library, but first all you were allowed was Mein Kampf or Völkischer Beobachter. They were not exactly designed to stimulate the mind but rather to reduce it. There are teachers who take great joy in passing on wisdom. But we must not forget the other kind of teacher who loves to repress knowledge and leave us more ignorant and brutal than themselves. Believe me, I am not complaining. I had it easy compared to most. But, of course, my imprisonment was completely unjust. I had done nothing to deserve those camps. There were a number of others, like myself. Guilty or not, few deserved to be props for the showmanship of illiterates or sadists. In the camps my old friends turned into terrifying enemies. Jude, mach Mores! Jude, verrecke! Hep! Hep! Even in Dachau they had their Judengasse. Zionismus ist ein überwundener Standpunkt!
I came out of Egypt. I came out of Libya and Abyssinia. I came out of the land of the Moors and the land of Sefarad, Zarefat and all the lands of Edom or Ishmael. I came out of Zarefat and Rome and Carthage. I came out of Troy and Athens, Constantinople and London. Out of New York and Los Angeles. Captive and conqueror both. I came out of Atlanta and Memphis and Cairo. I will come out of the world. My cities shall fly.
1648, you say? As if this somehow makes up for 1492. Everyone is talking in that dingy distance. A no man's land of howls, imploring shrieks. And then they are talking again. And you say there is nothing to fear from the East? I say you are looking in the wrong places. Look to Australia or China or Siam, not to Russia or her empire, who will always be European, for it is Christendom herself she defends. It is her free Cossacks who will ensure Christendom's boundaries. For it is written that the borders were drawn upon the world by God's own finger tracing them as He traced the mosaics of our history.
Abraham, der als erster seiner eigenen Menschlichkeit ein Opfer brachte: Wo traf dein Messer deinen vertrauensvollen Sohn?
Those decent horsemen riding into Ur, their eyes bright with the significance of a new idea. Such expressions were worn by the men who saw the wheel invented and the women who learned to card wool. By Norsemen who carried the banner of Christ. By Easterners who bore their own flags. Sooner or later, as many predicted, East and West would meet, either at war or having learned a way of peace. On one side the gold, white, red, black, green and blue of Christendom. On the other side the dark emerald of Islam, the scarlet crescent and whatever colours of convenience thrown up by criminals, kulaks and cowboys of modern Zion. Who would be a Jew?
Days passed. We drank what water we could collect but rarely dared emerge from our truck while the train was standing, in case we should fail to get back on or attract the eye of some zealot in blue and red serge who would make it his mission to place us under arrest. I could not afford to be investigated by the French, especially since their diplomacy at that time favoured my ex-master, El Glaoui. If any description of us had been published I would be instantly recognised. Few Europeans travelled about Morocco wearing native costume, accompanied by a huge American Negro servant. For this reason, even when at night we ventured a few feet from our truck as it rested in a siding, we kept our heads covered with our djellaba hoods.
We had expected to arrive in Casablanca in less than a day. Of course our train, fuelled more by red tape than coal, went everywhere but Casablanca. The military bureaucrats in Paris sent it first to Meknès, then to Rabat, then to Fez, then back to Meknès and from there to Tangier, loading and unloading nothing, but in Rabat adding two private horseboxes, presumably at the request of the Sultan. Our three central cattle cars remained unused at every stage, but the smell of horse manure was added to that of cow dung and the boiled-egg smell of steam. Though tempted by glimpses of towns, we were reluctant to disembark at an inland station, especially since Mr Mix had left Meknès under a cloud and was well known in the area, but early one morning we at last glimpsed the familiar blue waters of the Mediterranean, the green palms, white tenements and pink towers of a seaport which could only be Tangier.
No sooner had we realised our destination than we understood our danger. Our only choice was to disembark. Already the train was shunting along the military quay to the waiting ships. The docks were thick with French soldiers, with Negro Zouaves. Our only hope was that they lacked the sense to recognise us. Mr Mix and I took familiar positions on both sides of the doors, slid them back and prepared to jump. As we had guessed, the soldiers assumed us to be workers. They paid us no attention. I was to go first. The quay moved slowly past. A gap appeared in the Zouave ranks. I threw my carpet bag and sack of films on to a pile of mail and with triumphant elation made to leap after them, but my celebration was short-lived, as at the very moment I began to jump, I found myself staring directly down into the seedy features of that treacherous little turncoat Bolsover, late of the Hope Dempsey. By providence or bribery the snivelling cockney hophead had escaped Egyptian justice, weaselled his way into a job with the French as a civilian clerk, and arrived at the free port just in time to recognise me! The worst possible luck!
I had no time to shout a warning to Mr Mix. Like me he was already jumping. Bolsover meanwhile became a maniac, tugging at the sleeves of every uniformed Negro nearby, screaming in English that a dangerous criminal was among us. As Mr Mix began to run, his hood blew back from his head revealing those magnificent, unmistakable features. We had no chance of making a discreet exit or of talking ourselves out of danger. The black had given us away! I saw his huge head snap up as he vaulted a barrier then ran through the yards towards the passenger station, a pair of baffled Zouaves in pursuit. He would have made a magnificent athlete.
Bolsover, a mass of excited duff, had poor success in attracting any further help. All attention was now on the boxes where a French officer, concerned that the animals should not injure themselves, struggled to command his unruly men and calm the horses.
My emotional resources were already very low. Rather than waste time remonstrating, I shouted for Mr Mix to keep running while my own strategy was to point to his fleeing back, crying in Arabic: 'There he goes!' and, with my hood over my head, my sack over my back and my bag in my hand, mingle with the gathering crowd of dock workers attracted by the double commotion. I heard Bolsover's grating French: 'He's a famous Parisian crook! He's wanted for fraud and manslaughter!' The man had developed some bizarre grudge against me. He was obsessed. Who else would give credence to that Parisian airship business? Forced to leave for New York before I could prove my case to the Sûreté, which with its usual lazy prejudice had fixed on me as an easy scapegoat, I had been unable to defend myself.
By the time it was safe to trudge slowly up to the passenger station I saw that they had caught poor Mr Mix. I think he was wounded, as he shouted at them furiously in Arabic. I could do nothing for him, but I did not believe he was in serious danger. At worst he would be repatriated to his native USA. This could be the making of him, for he had a wonderful career awaiting him in the lucrative field of Race Kinema. If they were to catch me I would be lucky not to be sent to Devil's Island. Nonetheless, I knew a pang of sadness. I was sure it was the last I would ever see of meyn hertrescher sidekick but meanwhile I was still at liberty.
Elijah raises his staff against black skies. He points, signalling the end of misery. My cities will fly. My sons will survive. Who will lift this burden from me? Did I not try to help them? But their blood is not mine, neither is it upon me. My flesh is clean and I have cleaned my heart. Le'shanah haba'ah bi-Jerushalayim. I know these things. I mourn their dead. Not all are ignorant. I do not lie. Barach dayan emet. You think I can accept this trayf, I say. Lashon ha-ra. They speak nothing but lies. Brit milah, indeed! What do they know?
For the next few months I was forced to enter Tangier's notorious shadow world, where Spanish officers and the local demi-monde mingled and where, by a variety of undignified means, I was able to sustain myself. My life became almost civilised. I even managed to spend my birthday at the Hotel Cecil in the company of Captain Juan Lopez-Allemany of the Spanish Foreign Legion, the brute who was for a while my friend and patron. I was frequently a guest at the house of Hussein de Fora, one of the best-educated and wealthiest hide-merchants in the city, and I kept a liaison with Madame de Brille, wife of the French concessionaire.
To all these I was known as Gallibasta. In that name, Madame de Brille was kind enough to obtain for me a French diplomatic passport (she had some idea of continuing our liaison when she returned home). I was offered several permanent business opportunities which I was obliged to refuse. My duty I now knew was to get to Rome as soon as possible. Also, the jobs on offer were either unsavoury or liable to place me in peril again. I had had my fill of perils. The secure magnificence of Il Duce's Italy so near at hand was much more attractive. Even this caution was not enough, however. Soon I learned that enquiries were being made about me in the Outer Market and shortly afterwards I was arrested. Happily it was on a trumped-up vice charge. Even the police thought it ludicrous. They told me they sensed the hand of a jealous woman but I could not help thinking of my old enemy Brodmann. I had nothing to gain by using the French passport. The authorities accepted my Spanish papers, so I was able to pay my way clear only, needless to say, to find myself the subject of extortion. I was rapidly growing reconciled to accepting a previously rejected prospect when one rainy afternoon in the Inner Market, not far from the British Post Office, I recognised two welcome faces.
Only a Russian, especially a South Russian, will understand the joy of meeting fellow countrymen in a world as alien as Tangier's. When one of those countrymen is a relative it is no surprise that your Russian will shout out his pleasure and run, arms wide, to embrace him! The faces belonged to none other than my dear cousin Shura and his elegant boss, the Ukrainian turned Parisian, that famous éminence grise of French politics, Monsieur Stavisky, whom I had known when a boy and met later at a party of Mistinguett's in Paris. I had not seen Shura since he had disem-barked from our boat at Tripoli, on some business of Stavisky's. Now the two sophisticates strolled through the market as if they took the air along the Arcadian corniche. Ignoring the light rain, they were chatting and enjoying the sights and the warm weather. Their stylish suits, in canary yellow and lavender respectively, with matching spats, drew admiring attention from the ever-present touts and beggars of the Tangier streets. Hugging him I noted that Shura's sleeve, empty since the War, was now filled. I admired his artificial limb. The hand that projected from the crisp linen of his shirt-cuff looked almost real. 'Oh, Shura! Shura!' Shura laughed heartily as he recognised me. Even the cool Stavisky showed pleasure at the coincidence. 'It is a small world, this,' he said. 'Let's have some of that terrible fig brandy they sell here.' He pointed to a café and we soon took our seats at a little outside table. 'What are you calling yourself these days, Dimka? Are you still a film star? Are you on location? Or on the run?' He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.
My life was suddenly enriched. These true friends understood the necessity and usefulness of a nom de guerre, and only needed to learn that I was Señor Juan Miguel Gallibasta, an import/export agent, to accept that I was now, to all intents and purposes, a Spanish national.
The two Ukrainians were in Tangier on business, making their way to keep an appointment at the Banque d'État du Maroc to take care of the paperwork. Shura was delighted to meet me alive in Tangier. Rumour had it, he said, that I had died upriver in Egypt. Before he disappeared into the bank, Stavisky amiably suggested I join him and Shura on his yacht Les Bon' Temps that evening. 'We'll have an Odessa reunion,' he said. He was leaving for Casa in the morning but Shura would remain with the boat.
Once again Odessa, the location of my transfiguration, was proving central to my fate. In that city of Odysseus my adventures had begun and my destiny had been determined. There Shura had been my mentor, my alter ego, my hero. There I had discovered all the world's pleasures and not a little of its pain, and there I had met Mrs Cornelius. I have always known that the turning point of my life was in Odessa, but I have never properly been able to understand why. It does me no good to recall those days. Perhaps it was the Jew in Arcadia. But what did he do? (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Vengeance of Rome by Michael Moorcock. Copyright © 2013 Michael Moorcock. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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